Yesterday marked the start of Edinburgh’s International Festival and Fringe Festival for another year. It’s a big year, as 2017 marks their 70th anniversary.
In the aftermath of the devastation brought about by world war two, arts and culture were seen as an important way of reimagining a new and better world. So in 1947, the conductor Rudolf Bing co-founded the festival with Henry Harvey Wood, head of the British Council in Scotland; Sidney Newman, as well as civic leaders in Edinburgh, most notably Lord Provost Sir John Falconer, who spoke of his ambition that the festival should “provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit”.
"In the aftermath of the devastation brought about by world war two, arts and culture were seen as an important way of reimagining a new and better world."
The impact of that first festival resonated across the city and around the world, enabling Edinburgh to become the world’s leading festival city and to the creation of Edinburgh’s family of festivals.
Alongside the first international festival, a programme of documentaries was presented by the Edinburgh Film Guild. The Edinburgh International Film Festival is now the world’s oldest continually running film festival. This years festival, held in June, showcased an incredible 151 features from 46 countries and 17 world premieres.
When eight theatre companies arrived in Edinburgh in 1947 and found themselves unable to participate in the festival, they sought out smaller alternative venues for their productions. And so the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was born too. Now the world’s largest arts festival, this year it features nearly 3,400 shows in 300 venues, with 62 countries represented. A festival that anyone can access, it is the largest platform on earth for artistic freedom.
Not only did 1947 mark the first Edinburgh fringe, but it was the beginning of the whole fringe concept, with more than 200 across the world today. To recognise the importance of all the fringes across the world, the Scottish Government supports World Fringe Day on 11 July every year.
We’re also supporting artists showcase their work to the world. In 2007, former SNP MSP Kenny MacAskill and I, as Lothian MSPs, recognised the need to provide more support to and opportunity for Scotland’s artists at the Edinburgh festivals. As a result of a 2007 SNP manifesto commitment, the Festivals Expo Fund was born, promoting the creation of new work in Scotland and international appreciation of work from Scotland.
Since 2008, the SNP Scottish Government’s Expo Fund has provided £19 million to members of Festivals Edinburgh. It has helped create a legacy of important new work that promotes and increases opportunities for the best of Scotland’s artists on an international platform. This year, the SNP Government provided £300,000 of extra funding to celebrate the 70th anniversary year.
The Made in Scotland programme, funded by the Expo Fund, has enabled 159 companies, ensembles and artists to showcase their work, with a further 57 productions touring across five continents, visiting more than 20 countries. The “James Plays” are a fantastic example of this. The plays were presented at the international festival in 2014 and have now toured to Adelaide and Auckland, in Canada and across the UK, receiving critical acclaim and winning an Evening Standard award for Best Play.
"The festivals are recognised as a world-leading brand, with audiences of a staggering 4.5 million, which is on a par with the FIFA World Cup and second only to the Olympics."
Supporting the festivals isn’t just good for our national culture, it’s good for our economy too. The festivals are recognised as a world-leading brand, with audiences of a staggering 4.5 million, around the same as the FIFA World Cup and second only to the Olympics. The festivals generate an incredible economic impact of £280 million in Edinburgh and £313 million in Scotland in total.
The economic contribution of our festivals will be further boosted by the development of a new Concert Hall in Edinburgh. The Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Deal includes funding of £10 million from the Scottish Government, matched by funding from the UK government, to deliver the new venue in Edinburgh. The Concert Hall will provide a home for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and will be used exclusively for festival performances in August - underlining Edinburgh’s leading position as an international festival city.
"Edinburgh’s festivals define and promote Scotland’s identity as a confident, creative and welcoming nation."
Central to maintaining that international position is the seamless flow of artists from across the world. The festivals are distinctly Scottish yet profoundly international, drawing artists, audiences and media from every continent, with people from more than 70 countries attending each year. Edinburgh’s festivals define and promote Scotland’s identity as a confident, creative and welcoming nation.
We will work hard to ensure that this reputation is not tarnished or that our festivals are not disadvantaged by Brexit. Access to the ideas, talent, experience and creative exchanges that freedom of movement provides is essential to enable all our industries to flourish and thrive - including, importantly, our festivals. Both in government and at Westminster, the SNP will stand up for our cultural sector in the Brexit process.
The festivals challenge us and enable us all to step out of our own lives to experience something new and unique. They bring people together to germinate new ideas. They help us to understand other cultures and experiences.
For 70 years Edinburgh’s festivals have welcomed the world. They have made an outstanding contribution in Scotland and internationally - we will continue to do everything we can to help build on this success.